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Not by Bread Alone

10/23/2005 - 6:00 AM PST

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Wider Strategies Urged in the War on Hunger

ROME, OCT. 23, 2005 (Zenit) - This year's World Food Day marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization. Representatives from more than 150 countries gathered in Rome, where the FAO is headquartered, to mark the occasion.

During a ceremony held last Sunday, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf affirmed that the problem of hunger in the world is not primarily one of production. According to a FAO press release that day, Diouf told the gathering that the world has the resources and technology to produce sufficient quantities of food. It can meet the demand of a growing population, as well as bring an end to hunger and poverty.

The FAO official then issued a challenge to world leaders. "I dare to hope," said Diouf, "that wisdom will guide the politicians who decide the destiny of this global village and that reason will prevail, allowing them to make decisions based on the social harmony of a world of solidarity and peace, not on short-term interests than can lead to injustice and social unrest."

During the ceremony, the Italian minister of agriculture and forestry, Gianni Alemanno, called for more attention to be paid to Africa and for greater collaboration with nongovernmental organizations. He also said that eliminating hunger is more a case of "allowing people who suffer from hunger to be in a better position to get, in whole or in part, their own food."

In a speech the next day, Diouf noted that considerable progress has been made in reducing the more extreme forms of hunger. Since 1960 the proportion of the world's population that is undernourished has fallen from 35% to 13%.

Nevertheless, about 852 million people still suffer from some form of hunger, Diouf said. Moreover, some of the intensive agricultural systems that have permitted growth are not sustainable and have negative environmental, economic, social and cultural consequences.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, also addressed the FAO meeting on Monday. Eliminating hunger, he commented, involves more than just ensuring market mechanisms function well and putting in place the technical means to ensure high levels of agricultural production.

Cardinal Sodano urged the participants to rediscover the full sense of the human person, starting with family life, which is where we learn about solidarity and sharing. He told them of the Church's support for their efforts to help mankind, which, in practice, means openness to life, respect for the created order, and adherence to those ethical principles that form the basis for social life.

Millions die

Each year the FAO publishes a report on hunger. The most recent edition, "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2004," was released last Dec. 8. According to the report, hunger and malnutrition kill more than 5 million children every year, and cost the developing countries billions of dollars in lost productivity and national income.

As well, each year hunger leads to more than 20 million low birth-weight babies being born in the developing world. These babies faced increased risk of dying in infancy, while survivors often suffer lifelong physical and cognitive disabilities.

The report highlighted the economic benefits that would flow from eliminating hunger. A rough estimate is that countries face $30 billion of direct costs due to dealing with the negative effects of hunger. In addition, there are the indirect costs of lost productivity and income. The FAO argued that every dollar invested in reducing hunger can yield from 5 to over 20 times as much in benefits.

One of the Millennium Development Goals is to reduce by half the number of hungry people in the world by 2015. But, according to the FAO report, that number rose to 852 million in 2000-2002, up by 18 million from the mid-1990s.

Even so, the 2015 goal can still be reached, the report argued. More than 30 countries, representing nearly half the population of the developing world, reduced the number of hungry people by at least 25% during the 1990s.

Hunger is a particularly acute problem in countries suffering from natural or man-made disasters. An overview of the current situation was given by James Morris, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program in a speech Aug. 10 to a meeting of the World Affairs Council in San Francisco.

Fading away

In 2004, Morris noted, the World Food Program helped 113 million people in 80 countries. But the problems these people face receive little media attention. In fact, only around 8% of deaths from hunger occur in the humanitarian emergencies widely covered on television, he observed.

The vast majority of those who die from hunger are "fading away in remote corners of the world that typically escape ...

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